19 August 2011

Let's Add This to the Curriculum

Tankborn by Karen Sandler (October 1, 2011, Lee & Low Books)
Review by Kenzie Helene

It is rare that I come across a book that I would love to teach. I'm not headed out to be a teacher, or to make lesson plans of any sort, but there have been a few times that I've come across a book so perfectly written that it is made to be in a classroom. A book that has lessons that need to be taught with a plot that can capture the heart of a high school student set against reading. Tankborn is one of these novels.


Kayla is a GEN, a Genetically Engineered Non-human. Loka, Kayla’s planet, is run on an archaic caste system, one where GENs are the lowest tier. In her fifteenth year, Kayla  is given an assignment that she is told will make her happiest in life because of the skill set she was engineered with. Kayla is sent to take care of Zul Manel, an old trueborn, but before she can go, a series of codes is downloaded into her annexed brain and upsets the course of her future.


Tankborn brings up the biggest question in history (and literature): what does it mean to be human? Is being human having the traits that we consider to own as ours? Is it being able to think past biology, to make decisions based on reasoning deeper than the need to breed and pass on genes? Or is it DNA and DNA only? By providing the best medical care that we can, are we somehow taking away what makes a person human? Tankborn questions all these  theories and how far we should go in genetic engineering if we wish to remain on top.

Beyond the idea of humanity itself, Tankborn delves into the controversial subject of religion.
Trueborns and lowborns have kept the one thing that unites Islam, Christianity, and Judaism by believing in a Lord Creator. Kayla and other GENs, however, believe in a different religion, one ruled by the Infinite. Tankborn makes readers question the origin of religion and rediscover why they believe in their faith, or why they do not.

Author Karen Sandler has come a long way with this plot, starting Tankborn off as a play and eventually adapting it to the brilliant novel it has become. Tankborn’s plot is enrapturing. The first fifty pages go a bit slow, but all of it is needed to show the reader the language style and lifestyle that is on Loka. By the end of the book, you’ll be thinking in terms of GENs and trueborns more than proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Her characters are built so solidly that you could reach out and bop them on the head when they make bad decisions. Sandler spent quality time with these characters, learning about them and talking to them enough that it feels like she’s writing about her best friends more than make-believe people. Each character’s motivations and confusion is documented within the pages, revealing the inner turmoil they go through. Devak’s, Zul Manel’s great grandson’s, mental war between enjoying Kayla’s company and having been taught that GENs are lesser is fully understood by anyone who has ever been confronted with a new idea. Mishall’s, Kayla’s best friend’s, bewilderness about the sketchy people she works for makes the reader squirm with sympathy. Kayla’s self esteem issues about her looks is something any teen can relate to. All these intimate problems make reading Tankborn feel more like a memoir than fiction. When a book is loved, the writing is so much better and well thought-out. Tankborn was obviously loved to pieces.

Whether you read every day or once a year, Tankborn is a book that you need to run out and get.** And if you love it, make sure to share it with a friend.

** On October 1st, of course!

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